The story is right there in the song.
Astronautalis was playing an anarchist house show in Darmstadt when he bumped into Kevin Seconds of Nevada punk band 7 Seconds. The two got to bullshitting, and Kevin said something to the effect of “age has never meant shit to me, it’s all about heart and being stupid.” Astronautalis took those as prophetic words.
Later, on the same tour, Astronautalis was in the Czech Republic playing a flophouse, making out with a showgoer in a stairwell. Her boyfriend came across the scene and, in a lover’s rage, chucked a cocktail at the two. Astronautalis got the fuck out of there.
Woven together, the two experiences became the opening scene to Astronautalis’ 2011 song “Measure the Globe”. It’s a song that sounds romantic — there is an existential hope that these moments may be in service of some greater purpose— but ultimately, it’s a resignation. An acceptance that, because of his chosen lifestyle, the Florida-born rapper may never get a chance at lifelong partnership or family.
“It sounds melodramatic, but [I felt like] I may not be capable of being loved in the most traditional sense,” he tells me. “It is what I believed, at the time, the closest I’d get — these flickering glimpses of love.”
The first time I listened to This Is Our Science, the album that revolves around “Measure the Globe,” I was sitting on a bus in Thailand with a whiskey hangover.
It was Sang Som — a syrupy, selfish spirit — that had harangued me the night before. It was a Wednesday morning. I was on the way to work, my hair leaving Rorschachs of sweat on the doily laid over my seat’s headrest.
These were days of absurd unreality. I’d spent the evening before at a go-go bar in Bangkok’s least reputable neighborhood complimenting dancers on their grasp of English. It was a profoundly selfish time, and that’s when the first lines of “The River, the Woods” burst into my ears with a waking determination.
“We set sail without an anchor, we count upon that never stop,” the verse called, bringing my ruined body to purpose. “An anchor’s just a coffin nail waiting for that hammer drop.”
The album came to me in a shuffle. Next was “Dmitri Mendeleev,” then “This Is Our Science,” then “Thomas Jefferson” — songs about driving yourself mad with ambition. To a 23-year-old writer drinking their way through Southeast Asia, these songs were the indignation I needed to keep going. They fueled me for weeks as I ventured, by ferry by motorbike by tuk tuk, deeper into my own solipsism.
One year ago today, I got married. I know, I buried the lede, but I was hoping you could infer as much from that big image, the one up there at the top.
I got married to Gaal Levine, a radiant woman with eyes so big you could climb right inside. I met her five days after I got home from Thailand, long before the reckless bidding of This Is Our Science had shaken its way out of my blood. I found her at a bar called the Phoenix Landing, which sucks, but she makes things that suck feel bearable, and that’s what we got married about.
Not long after we met, I wrote my first nationally published feature. It was about was about Astronautalis, whose real name is Andy. I will call him that for the rest of the piece. Partly because “Astronautalis” is a pain in the ass to type and I’m never sure if I’m spelling it right, and partly because he’s no longer just an interview subject to me.
I wrote that piece after Gaal and I saw Andy at T.T. the Bear’s Place, a bar that does not suck, though it is now closed. The piece was for Consequence of Sound. I did the interview over the phone from my childhood bed, and I’m pretty sure Andy cried when I told him how much his music meant to me. Gaal volunteered to read it over before I submitted it to my editor (Jeremy, if you’re reading, thank you), and I emailed it to her. When it published, she replied with a screenshot of the article on the homepage. I never deleted either message.
A few months before that, Gaal and I drove down to Baltimore to visit my friends from college. I was so excited about her that I had to integrate her into the parts of my life that she had missed by being a stranger. Part of that exercise was making her listen to This Is Our Science the entire way. It was on that trip that “The River, the Woods” ceased meaning as much, and I felt the galvanization of “Measure the Globe.”
I didn’t realize at the time that Andy had grown up in Howard County and was an obnoxious Orioles fan, but I know that now. I’ve written about Andy twice since 2012, once for City Pages (thank you Keith) and once for Bandcamp (thank you Jes).
Gaal doesn’t send me screenshots of this stuff anymore because it’s every damn day now. She probably doesn’t read most things I write. I’m sure she read both those pieces, though, because she loves me even when it’s annoying to do so. That’s also what we got married about.
It occurs to me I should probably embed the song somewhere in this story.
Gaal and I asked Andy to perform “Measure the Globe” at our wedding ceremony. He initially agreed, but he ended up getting booked for a show in Europe, so we danced to the album version. Here’s a version of him singing “Measure the Globe” along to an acoustic guitar in a barbershop in Los Angeles. Taylor and Pat (if you’re reading, I love you) did our ceremony music, and I was going to ask them to learn this version of the song and play along with Andy. I imagine this is what it might’ve sounded like that day.
Maybe he would’ve fucked up the lyrics in the first verse like he did here:
If you were at my wedding, you might not’ve really grasped what the song is about. You might’ve been too caught up in the expensive romance pageant to hear when Andy sings this part:
I know what you dream of, I dream of it too
Roads that are endless and rooms that are huge
Are these visions of heaven
Or nightmares I’m living?
All I know’s I’m scared of the truth
And if the world could end very soon
And all we’ve accomplished is moot
I’ll coat the carpet in gasoline
Strike our last match and leave
Before the whole house is consumed
So I’ll cover my hand in tattoos
I’ll kiss any woman that moves
There’s no Lord to forgive me
And physics is tricky
So all that I’m left with is you
There, the music swells. The guitar strings release all their sweetness. The urgency. The tempo rises like a lover’s chest first thing in the morning. The rhythm flourishes, making it very easy to time a dramatic twirl or dip. But these these are not words to love your wife to.
We’d considered a lot of different songs for our first dance. “Into the Mystic” was too impressionistic. “The Book of Love” too much of a cliche. No. It had to be “Measure the Globe.” Even if we knew it wouldn’t make sense.
“Measure the Globe” is a selfish song. A true antagonizer of your worst inclinations. A Faustian bargain where determination wins out over responsibility. It is the song you listen to when you’ve fled an engagement moments before the rabbi calls you to the altar, not one you switch on after promising your partner your very human soul in front of all the people you known in common.
But when those opening notes struck up, I grabbed Gaal by the waist and took her into the happiest three minutes of the day. They were our words to dance to.
Four years ago, Andy joked to me that he wasn’t capable of caring for a ficus. He hadn’t shaken This Is Our Science out of his blood yet, then.
“I was still very much wrapped up in the idea of what love is in a song, not what love is in a life,” he says. “[I didn’t know] how difficult it can be, and how that only makes it stronger and more beautiful.”
Andy is 37, now. These days, he spends more time at home with his wife than he does Kerouacing through European hamlets. I was in his kitchen drinking his beer when he told me all this. I was hunched over in the sunlight, sitting next to three thriving houseplants, all of which he tends in the hours he’s not in the living room writing songs.
“I’m still an idiot,” Andy admits. “Now that I’m older, now that I’ve met a woman I want to change my life for…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. He punctuates the thought with a hissing laugh. I know exactly what he means.
I ask Andy if he was surprised that two people, who seemingly love each other, would want to wedding dance to “Measure the Globe,” a song that denies the existence of God and all but guarantees infidelity in the same breath. He doesn’t know what to say. He can’t even hiss about it. He’s just amazed we wanted to dance to anything he made in 2011.
“Thinking about that song, I recognize the person who wrote it, but it feels a lot longer away than just 9 or 10 years,” he says. “It feels like someone made an Astronautalis song. Someone, 1,000 years from now, was making a song and saying, ‘that was influenced by Astronautalis.’ It doesn’t feel like Andy anymore.”
I think Andy and I are friends, now. It’s hard to tell. After the interview, we spent the afternoon talking about our families, about fighting to stay in love, about having children and being children. He showed me the new songs he recorded in Amsterdam. They’re all about his wife.
What I can tell is that I shouldn’t be writing about Andy anymore. Not in a way that’s supposed to be impartial. Even if we’re not really friends. When I write about his music, I am not a journalist: I am a hopeless conduit of this big, eternal love.
I hope you’re reading this, Gaal. I hope I am not there when you are, because I will bubble into hot tears.
Look at you, in that big image, up there. One year ago today. It feels like lightning to know what this look on your face means. To understand your piled-up cheeks. To know the joy captured in that plump line from your nose to you lip. My ring is on your finger.
I love you immortally. In a way that is frankly reckless. In a way that I would never have thought I could’ve been loved in 2011. A way that will mutate unpredictability, though I will try to capture it, my combinations of words growing more and more irrational over time.
You make the me feel gigantic. Like the other people in this world are made out of worms. Andy’s music made me feel like that, too. Thank you for sharing that with me.
One year after we danced, I realize, we are not a moment in time. We are a moment through time. We are stupid. We have heart. But we are not stupid with our hearts.
Now, let’s light the house on fire.